Exercise May Help Prevent Eye Diseases

Elisabeth Tracey/Illustration

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Not only can running help you shed that freshman fifteen-it may also decrease your chances of developing eye diseases, according to a new UC Berkeley study.

The study, published last month in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, found a link between vigorous exercise and the prevention of vision loss due to cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

About 41,000 runners were surveyed for more than seven years for the study, said lead author Paul Williams, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Williams found that men who ran more than five miles a day had a much lower risk of cataracts, compared to those who ran less than a mile a day.

For women, who are generally at a much lower risk for eye disease, the link was more difficult to establish.

"We think that the more exercise, the more vigorous, the greater the health benefits," Williams said.

Williams added that the results of the study provided more evidence to encourage exercise for benefits other than weight loss.

Although the latest study found a link between running and improved eye health, it did not establish the biological processes behind the connection, Williams said.

His findings are the most recent in the National Runners' Health Study, which he created in 1991 in order to determine the health benefits of running.

Williams said vigorous exercise was defined by a significantly elevated rate of metabolism.

"It is spending more than six times your resting metabolic rate," Williams said. "This include things such as cycling fast, running, though not necessarily walking fast."

Xiaohua Gong, a professor in the UC Berkeley School of Optometry who specializes in eye degeneration, said the study's findings complemented his own research.

"It makes perfect sense," Gong said. "Running keeps up metabolism, which keeps healthy metabolites for healthy cells and ensures that organs-such as eyes-will be functional."

Williams said his future research will examine the benefits of walking, which has been linked to preventing hypertension and diabetes.

"We want to find out whether or not this applies to walkers as well as runners," Williams said.

Additionally, he said he hopes to explore whether the link is genetically based or the result of environmental wear and tear.

"We also want to follow up on these runners, and whether or not these conditions continue as they get older," Williams said. "We want to see whether genes are affecting the risk for macular degeneration or cataracts, and whether those people are predisposed."


Contact Melani Sutedja at [email protected]

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